Bible Abuse Directed at Homosexuals

Matthew 19

A second section of interest to gays looks at what Jesus taught about marriage and divorce (in the process comparing a range of translations), yielding a possible conclusion about whether someone who is gay should marry a woman.

In Matthew 19:3-12 Jesus answers questions posed by Pharisees about divorce, leading to a question whether it is not perhaps better not to marry. He responds to it with a short discussion in Matthew 19:12 that the King James Version (1611) translates this way:

“For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb; and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
“To introduce one’s self as a eunuch in ancient times was roughly akin to introducing one’s self today as a hairdresser from San Francisco.” Comment by Rev. Jeff Miner or John Tyler Connoley on the Would Jesus Discriminate web site.

You might expect newer translations to have removed the borderline obscurity of this, in which case you would be disappointed. Consider the 1984 New International Version:

“For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have made themselves eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

The 1996 Worldwide English Version is considerably clearer:

“Some men cannot marry because they were born that way. Some were made that way by men. Others said, ‘I will not marry, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.’ Anyone who can do this, should do it.”

But notice the differences in meaning between it and the 1998 New International Reader’s Version (which appears not to be about marriage at all but rather about having children):

“Some men are not able to have children because they were born that way. Some have been made that way by other people. Others have made themselves that way in order to serve the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept living that way should do it.”

Other versions stick to marriage. The message of the 2005 New Century Version is:

“There are different reasons why some men cannot marry. Some men were born without the ability to become fathers. Others were made that way later in life by other people. And some men have given up marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. But the person who can marry should accept this teaching about marriage.”

Clearest among the translations is The Message (1993). Unfortunately, as you should be aware by now, clarity is not necessarily the same as accuracy:

“Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked – or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.”

Castrated males are not the only people included in the term ‘eunuch’; there are those rendered sexually inactive by the pain/scars of (sexual) abuse (this is one of the things conservatives claim can cause someone to become gay; the other is poor parenting). There can hardly be a question that gays fall into the eunuch definition given by Christ, and Isaiah 56:4-5 offers a particularly hopeful prospect for those who keep the covenant with God.

It is possible to interpret the third type of eunuch that Jesus mentions as “those who choose to refrain from marriage with women because doing so would be contrary to their God-created nature and therefore dishonest.” To get that particular view would require looking at all of Jesus’ statements about precisely what the ‘kingdom of God’ is (something well beyond the scope of this particular discussion). Is it, perhaps, a realm in which honesty to one’s fundamental nature might be as important as honesty towards others? Might we be doing our best to live in God’s realm when we love others in the same way that God loves us – unconditionally?

For a more in-depth view of exactly what ‘marriage’ amounted to in Old Testament times, please refer to this site. Mr Townsley also looks at the evidence that King David and Jonathan might have been involved in a commitment equivalent to marriage, and he concludes with an examination of the Bible’s view of procreation as a component of marriage (found a bit further down on the page).

Jesus has clearly stated that heterosexual marriage – the only kind Jesus’ local community imagined at the time – is not for all. Your personal attitude toward marriage must reflect your own personal situation – your family and the community in which you live and work, as well as your need to mark a relationship with the concreteness that you believe it should have. It might also reflect your status as a loved child of God – as discussed in the next section.

Before Jews came back from the Exile, bringing with them eastern notions of life after death, this life here and now was all there was (hence the fundamentalist view that a good person would be rewarded with a long life, prosperity, and many children). Since the only form of an afterlife involved living through your descendants, there was enormous pressure for men to marry and have children, for a widow to have children of her brother-in-law in order to continue her husband’s line. Adult bachelorhood simply was unthinkable under any circumstances.